Is Honiton our own Handforth?

Some, like a recent correspondent, think you have to look no further than EDDC:

“For those of us in East Devon, this was very similar to the outbursts under the “old guard” so hardly  a surprise!

Honiton Nub News does not seem to have featured Jackie Weaver and the “goings on” at Handforth Parish Council to date. 

Given the series of explosive meetings and fallings out within the Honiton Town Council over the past few months, Owl is surprised. This news surely wouldn’t have escaped Honiton Forward. Owl’s advice: press record!

The Hansworth meeting is still being dissected nationally with particular emphasis on the display of male aggressive behaviour. Some welcome the move to online Zoom meetings because it eliminates the physical intimidation that can occur in council chambers.

In the Observer Gaby Hinsliff reports this and suggests, in lighter vein, there should be a statue to Jackie Weaver. Owl thinks many would agree with her:

Don’t mess with Jackie Weaver, boys. She’s got a mute button and knows how to use it 

Gaby Hinsliff www.theguardian.com 

Some day, there will surely be a statue to Jackie Weaver.

Women will take their small daughters to see it and deliver homilies about the importance of standing your ground with pompous and aggressive men in meetings, which their daughters won’t understand at the time but will remember with startling clarity once they actually start work. And just as MPs entering the Commons chamber used to touch the bronze foot of Winston Churchill’s nearby statue for luck, aspiring politicians will stop and offer silent thanks to Jackie, the patron saint of women who are having absolutely none of your nonsense.

Well, we can dream. But if nothing else, the heroine of last week’s most unexpected viral content has given everyone something other than Covid-19 to think about. Weaver was the host of an extraordinary (in every sense) Zoom meeting of Handforth parish council’s planning and environment committee, footage from which ended up on YouTube, after it had descended into a terribly British form of naked power struggle.

First, she removed the obstreperous chairperson from the online meeting despite his protests (“You have no authority here!”). Then the incandescent vice-chair stormed off his sofa in solidarity (“Read the standing orders! Read them and understand them!”), leaving the studiedly calm Weaver to lead more mild-mannered colleagues in getting some actual work done. Nevertheless, as the saying goes, she persisted……………..

And then there are discussions of the legal and constitutional issues involved with what appears to be a poorly written, ambiguous and possibly contradictory set of Council Rules.

Did Jackie Weaver have the authority? – the law and policy of that Handforth Parish Council meeting

A blog by davidallengreen.com 

Who concludes:

This viral incident is an insight into the reality of one local government meeting.

On balance, it would appear the disruptive councillors were wrong to say the extraordinary meeting was invalid.

And, on balance, the exact manner of their exclusions was not in accordance with the Standing Orders – though, in the circumstances, the disruptive councillors can hardly complain.

You would not get any of what really happened from the official minutes.

This is a useful reminder to all – including historians and legal commentators – that formal documents often do not give the full story.

As such this video is a boon for public transparency of council meeting.

This is why all council meetings should be streamed and available on video.

And in conclusion, on the face of the Standing Orders, Jackie Weaver did not seem to have the authority to call the extraordinary committee meeting – but she did not need to do so.

Weaver did not have authority as ‘Proper Officer’ – but she did not claim that she had such authority and she did need not any such powers for clerking.

Weaver did not appear to have the formal power to exclude the disruptive councillors – but, given that this exclusion was then accepted by the new chair, and that the disruption was plain, that does not seem to practically matter.

And these conclusions can be offered on the basis of reading the Standing Orders – reading and understanding them.